Duterte and his allies must be held accountable for blatant destabilization attempts

Last January, Rodrigo Duterte and his allies convened in his hometown of Davao City for a so-called “prayer rally”.

The event was less religious and more political, with the former president calling his successor, incumbent President Bongbong Marcos Jr., a “drug addict”. His son, current Davao City Mayor Sebastian Duterte also demanded Marcos Jr. step down as president.

This discordant relationship between President Marcos and the Duterte political dynasty is a far cry from two years ago, during the 2022 presidential election. In that election, Marcos Jr. and the former president’s daughter – Sara Duterte – were running-mates and called their tandem, the “UniTeam” (united team).

President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. (right), the late dictator's only son and namesake, is now the President of the Philippines. His deputy, Vice President Sara Duterte (left), is also a political nepo-baby, the daughter of former President Rodrigo Duterte. (Photo: Ezra Acayan/Getty Images)
President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. (right) celebrates with his running-mate and vice-president Sara Duterte, former President Rodrigo Duterte’s daughter, after winning in the 2022 elections. Although they were allies in 2022, the Duterte and Marcos political dynasties have now turned into arch-enemies. (Photo: Ezra Acayan/Getty Images)

Fast forward to 2024, the Marcos and Duterte political dynasties are far from united. In fact, since the prayer-cum-political rally that the Dutertes convened in Davao City last January, political figures aligned with the Duterte family have been constantly attacking President Marcos.

Lawyer Glenn Chong, a former Marcos ally-turned-Duterte loyalist, threatened to slap the President’s wife, Liza Araneta-Marcos. The threat came during another “prayer rally” organised by the Duterte faction that was almost entirely dedicated to attacking the current government.

The lawyer supported Marcos Jr. during his electoral protest against former Vice President Leni Robredo, who edged out Marcos in the 2016 vice-presidential election by a narrow margin that resulted in a legal dispute in the electoral court.

Duterte’s former presidential spokesperson, Harry Roque, has also been attacking President Marcos during these rallies. He has criticized the administration’s perceived lack of a “China policy” despite being in Government for two years.

Perhaps most egregious of all, long-time Duterte ally and former House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez called on the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) to “withdraw support for President Marcos”. It is already a seditious statement in itself, but the gravity of the offence is exacerbated by the fact that Alvarez is an elected member of the House of Representatives.

Cult leader Apollo Quiboloy (background) looks on as former President Rodrigo Duterte (foreground) speaks to the media. (Photo: Rappler)
Former President Rodrigo Duterte (left) with his “spiritual advisor”, cult leader Apollo Quiboloy who also owns the SMNI broadcast network. (Photo: Rappler)

Alvarez was rightfully censured by the House, but for him to make such a brazen statement – blatantly calling for a military coup – was outrageous. The former speaker’s audacity could only be explained by his confidence that Duterte will defend him.

Despite being out of politics since 2022, the former president still wields enormous influence in the Philippine political sphere. Not merely because of his stature as a former president, but also because his daughter – Sara – is the current vice-president of the land.

Being in the same administration as President Marcos can be a complicated situation for Vice President Duterte, given her family’s explicit animosity towards the Marcos clan. While Sara has largely been restrained in her opposition to her running-mate, she has also made it clear that she has no loyalty to the Chief Executive.

The younger Duterte has been a regular fixture at her father’s “prayer” rallies, despite the tone of these events being explicitly anti-Marcos. In early 2023, the vice-president had already showed a glimpse of her defiance by resigning from the Lakas-CMD political party after her mentor and also a former president, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, was unceremoniously demoted from her leadership role in that party.

While muted, Vice President Duterte’s presence at these rallies clearly against her superior speaks volumes. Her repeated attendance at these events have even earned the ire of the First Lady Liza Marcos, who publicly called for Sara to resign from Cabinet because of her alleged disloyalty.

Former President Duterte gives a speech during one of his "Hakbang ng Maisug" prayer rallies in his hometown of Davao City. (Photo: Keith Bacongco/Manila Bulletin)
Former President Duterte gives a speech during one of his “Hakbang ng Maisug” prayer rallies in his hometown of Davao City. (Photo: Keith Bacongco/Manila Bulletin)

The Duterte political dynasty are using their influence to undermine the Marcos government, which in turn poses a risk to the stability of the country’s democracy and government itself. The risk posed by the Dutertes is especially dangerous given the positions they hold across government – should Sara Duterte be allowed to be in Cabinet if she is against the direction set out by her Chief Executive?

Freedom of speech and the right to dissent are naturally democratic rights guaranteed to every Filipino by the Constitution. However, the Duterte dynasty’s motive is obviously as a means to power-grab rather than to assert an ideal. They are not after the common good, but rather for their own interests.

For a political rally, attended by the second-highest official of the land, to explicitly call for the military to withdraw support for the administration, and to undermine the government’s foreign policy positions in the wake of heightening aggressions by China, is a clear pattern of destabilization.

The actions of the Duterte political dynasty, and their allies, is tantamount to treason. Sedition is one of the most serious offences under the law, and the Marcos Jr. administration urgently need to take a good look at holding them accountable for their treachery.